The Leafs played host to the Detroit Red Wings tonight, who are in the death throes of hockey’s longest playoff streak. Don’t cry because it’s over, Wings fans; cry because Ken Holland is in charge of the rebuild.
The Leafs struck just over a minute in. Mitch Marner threw to Tyler Bozak on a gorgeous feed. Bozak fired a shot that Peter Mrazek stopped, but the puck sprang out. While Justin Abdelkader bumped JVR into Mrazek—effectively taking Mrazek out of the play—Alexei Marchenko charged in and fired the puck into the empty net.
The Wings challenged the play for goaltender interference, but were unsuccessful. 1-0 Leafs.
The next strong Leafs shift came from the Matthews line, a sequence that peaked with Matthews firing a wraparound just past the net.
Niklas Kronwall took a holding penalty against Nikita Zaitsev, and the Leafs struck again. Tyler Bozak threw the puck to the front of the net and JVR—who was due—whacked a loose puck in. 2-0!
This was Joe Bowen’s 3000th game called, and he got a nice tribute and standing ovation during the first period. Joe is a shameless homer and he is the Leaf fanbase’s lovable uncle. If you don’t like him, you are wrong.
The Leafs went back to the PP as Mike Green took a slashing penalty. The second Leafs PP wasn’t as effective as the first, and the Wings killed it off effectively.
The first really solid chance I remember the Wings getting—there were others, but very few—came thirteen minutes into the first, when Anthony Mantha made an excellent cross-zone path to Mike Green. Green rifled a shot on Andersen. This was the beginning of a somewhat improved sequence for the Wings, when they managed to get some zone time on the Leafs. After a few minutes of this, JVR wound up taking a cross-checking call on Mike Green, for Detroit’s first PP of the game.
The Wings PP, despite its reputation (they came into the night ranked 30th in the NHL), gave the Leafs a few scares with some solid pressure. Still, the home team survived and thrived after, having a few good rushes during the remaining minutes.
The Leafs owned this period, in Leaf fashion (meaning they still allowed a few chances.) Anthony Mantha scares me every time he gets the puck, but beyond that, the Leafs were easily the better team. Especially nice offensive work from the Bozak line, who were due to start producing again (a goal for JVR and two assists apiece for Marner and Bozak.) I felt extremely confident at this moment as the Leafs have never blown a multi-goal lead.
The Red Wings came out with some what more jump in the first period, including a tough shift for the Bozak line. A Mitch Marner giveaway led to a Wings rush up-ice, and JVR hooked Justin Abdelkader trying to stop it. The Wings returned to the PP. Frans Nielsen wired a puck off the bar for the best Detroit chance, but the Leafs survived the PP.
Toronto struck afterwards. Matt Hunwick fired the puck down low to William Nylander, who hit Nazem Kadri out front. Kadri fired a puck in far side for his 27th goal of the year. 3-0 Leafs.
A wild play occurred just before the halfway mark of the period. Nick Jensen made a charging bull play and bowled straight into Frederik Andersen as the latter tried to play the puck in front of his crease. Jensen was sent to the box and the Leafs went back to the powerplay. The Leafs PP was ineffective this time around, though.
Henrik Zetterberg made a nice play streaking in to hit a post.
Zetterberg can still play, huh? pic.twitter.com/5C08gKELWP— Wendel Clarkson (@MuchTruculence) March 8, 2017
Morgan Rielly sprung Connor Brown for a breakaway with about four and a half minutes left. Brown came in hot on Mrazek, but backhanded the puck over the net.
Somewhat staggeringly, the Red Wings didn’t get their first shot on goal of the period until nearly seventeen minutes in (although it should be noted they hit two posts.) The Wings did manage a late rally, though, and it ended in their first goal.
Morgan Rielly fired a puck up the boards to Auston Matthews, who couldn’t handle it and get it out of the zone. Tomas Tatar recovered and got the puck to Gustav Nyquist. Nyquist zoomed in and backhanded the puck past Andersen. 3-1.
Well, that was unfortunate. The Leafs again dominated possession this period (and keep in mind they had a multi-goal lead the whole time), but they seemed to disengage somewhat late and they let the Red Wings back into the game. This left the Leafs with a two-goal lead going into the third. Gulp.
The Red Wings struck immediately to start the third. Zetterberg, Green and Nyquist came in together. Zetterberg threw to Green, who showed perfect patience as he approached the goal line. He then threw a Royal Road pass to Nyquist, who had the whole net to shoot at for his second of the night. 3-2.
Leaf Twitter has seen this movie before.
This fucking team— Totally Offside (@Totally_Offside) March 8, 2017
jesus christ come on guys.— Danny D (@dannyd1976) March 8, 2017
This fucking team.— Platinum Seat Ghosts (@3rdPeriodSuits) March 8, 2017
I hate this team.— Masha (@cad_yellow) March 8, 2017
This fucking team— tallahustler (@tallahustler) March 8, 2017
Jake Gardiner found a hole to get a breakaway, streaking in on Mrazek, who made a quick glove save.
The Wings, predictably, smelled blood. While Kadri and Hyman had a good chance (turned aside by Mrazek), the Red Wings were more active than previously. The leader was offensive defenceman—and easily the best of the weak Wings defence group—Mike Green.
I would like to here note that Tyler Bozak made a good defensive play in this period, stopping Riley Sheahan from receiving a very dangerous cross-zone pass from Anthony Mantha. Let us commemorate this moment.
The next terrifying Red Wings sequence came when Morgan Rielly botched a pass and handed the puck over within spitting distance of the Leafs’ net, which led to a Red Wings sequence. After that there was a very large crowd of people hacking at the puck and somebody was screaming FUCK repeatedly. That person may have been me. The play ended with Nazem Kadri just straight up lying on top of the puck.
The final few minutes, as you’d expect, were bonkers. Abdelkader and Polak battled in front of Andersen, and Polak knocked Abdelkader into the Leaf goalie—potentially setting up a mirror image of the Leafs’ first goal, when Mrazek was obstructed from making a save, but the goal stood since it was his own player’s fault. But the puck stayed out.
The Wings had an o-zone faceoff with 4.4 seconds remaining, but Henrik Zetterberg took a faceoff violation penalty trying to win it with his hand. That was enough to seal it, and the Leafs got out with the win.
- Thank Jesus, they held on.
- Stop me if you’ve heard this one: the Leafs built a lead with solid play early and then turtled late, and nearly blew a big lead. But at least it’s nearly and not completely.
- Sometimes players have good Corsi games, but make many mistakes. Morgan Rielly had some really, really brutal plays, including the bad clear on the first goal against and a hideous giveaway in the third that could easily have led to the tying goal against. I’m not sure he’s up to full speed recovering from his ankle sprain, and that’s a problem for the Leafs, who rely on him to be more than he is even when he’s healthy.
- Sometimes players have bad Corsi games, but are highly dangerous. Mike Green was the spark for many Wings chances, and he was the prime mover on the second Detroit goal. Also, Anthony Mantha always scares me, but at this point I think I’m just primed to look for him.
- The Bozak line was productive offensively, which is nice for them. Mitch Marner had two assists, but he also had multiple giveaways off over-ambitious passes that Mike Babcock must have hated.
- The Kadri line was the Leafs’ best in Corsi and, for my money, in general. Nice work all around at both ends of the ice.
- Auston Matthews had his quietest night in a very long time, and barely managed to keep his career-long SOG streak going with one shot in the third period.
- All things considered, the Leafs had 2⁄3 of a good game and blew 2⁄3 of a lead, which—if I know my fractions—means the Leafs were 700% successful.
- Two points! The Leafs were actually in a playoff spot at the exact instant I wrote this, but the Isles subsequently beat Edmonton 4-1 to bump Toronto back out of the second wild card. Gotta keep winning.
- Next game is Thursday, when the Flyers come to town for a critical matchup—Philadelphia is two points back of Toronto right now. Go Leafs Go.